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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Le Corsaire - ballet (1856, revised 2013)
Choreography by Kader Belarbi
The slave girl - Maria Gutierrez
The corsair - Davit Galstyan
The sultan - Takafumi Watanabe
The sultan's favourite concubine - Juliette Thélin
The corsair's companion - Demian Vargas
Two slaves - Juliana Bastos; Julie Loria
The wealthy slave trader - Henrik Victorin
Two guards - Cédric Pons; Joel Sitbon
Ballet du Capitole
Orchestre National du Capitole/David Coleman
rec. live, Théâtre National du Capitole, Toulouse, 19 May 2013
Picture: 16:9 anamorphic; Audio: LPCM 2.0 and dts Digital Surround
OPUS ARTE DVD OA1129D [110:00]

The history of the ballet Le Corsaire is as convoluted as its original plot: full of twists and turns, re-workings, revivals, musical additions, new steps, new pas de deux or de trois and new choreography. It was originally created by Joseph Mazillier (1801-1868) to the music of Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), with a libretto by Jules-Henry Vernoy de Saint-Georges (1799-1875). It was based on the famous poem “The Corsair” (1814) by celebrated British romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). Later, it was staged in Russia for the first time by Jules Perrot (1810-1892) for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The role of Conrad in this production was danced by the great Marius Petipa (1818-1910), who later revived the ballet four times and on each occasion, created additional steps and new choreography. New music was added to Adam’s original score by composers Cesare Pugni (1802-1870) and Léo Delibes (1836-1891), a former pupil of Adam.

In Russia, Le Corsaire was also staged in Moscow for the Bolshoi and more new choreography and new music by a wide variety of composers continued to be added. In modern times, Le Corsaire is not often staged. Contemporary productions are generally derived from Petipa’s revivals for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The production filmed for this DVD differs considerably from the previous ones and was created for Le Ballet du Capitole, the ballet company of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse, France.

I have not seen Le Corsaire live for several years; the last time was in 1998 or 1999 by the American Ballet Theatre, staged by Anna-Marie Holmes for the Boston Ballet in 1992, with choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev after Petipa. I happened to have the recording of this production (Arthaus DVD from 2000) and decided to watch it again. Sadly, I must say that the present DVD with the Ballet du Capitole fades a little by comparison.

Kader Belarbi, the choreographer of the Ballet du Capitole’s version, comments on the ballet, as performed by the Bolshoi and the American Ballet Theatre. He says in an interview (printed in the DVD booklet) that it has unclear storylines and that the music lacked balance and fluidity. I tend to agree with this. Belarbi also states that this inspired him to take a step back from Byron’s poem and write a new two-part libretto. While this indeed makes the plot clearer, it also cuts it considerably. This means that we lose some of the scenes — and extraordinary dancing moments — that made Le Corsaire famous. For example, the virtuoso solo of Ali (the corsair’s slave) in the grotto of the pirates is more or less lost. In fact, Ali does not exist in this version; instead, we have a rather pale Corsair’s Companion. The slave trader role is much reduced and instead of three acts (The Bazaar, The Grotto of the Corsair and The Palace), we have two with three scenes each: The Market Square, The Harem and The Palace in Act I and The Dream, The Corsair’s Den and the Shipwreck in Act II. Aided by the new music composed by the distinguished David Coleman — musical director of the Théâtre du Capitole’s orchestra and who also conducts the performance — the narrative is undoubtedly more coherent, clearer and flows in a more logical manner but the plot is greatly simplified. The characters do not even have names; they are just designated by what they do or what they are, as for example, the Sultan, the Wealthy Slave Trader or The Sultan’s Favourite Concubine. What Belarbi and Coleman have achieved with their production is to create an effective ensemble ballet. It works extremely well with a solid, cohesive group of quality dancers but there are no individual big stars or virtuoso performers. From this perspective, this version of Le Corsaire is rather enjoyable. There are some elements of Petipa’s revivals, namely in the Corsair’s and the Slave Girl’s grand pas de deux in the second act, but also more modern steps that effectively add to the flow of the plot and the grace of movement. Of the individual dancers, the one that impressed me the most was Takafumi Watanabe as The Sultan. He is an excellent dancer with a charismatic stage presence. The scene where he attempts to seduce the slave girl and finally rapes her is very powerful and almost distressing to watch. The Sultan’s role in this production by Kader Belarbi is a much more active, dramatic role than in the previous versions and, to me, it definitely enhanced the ballet as a whole. Maria Gutierrez, as the Slave Girl, is very good, suitably fragile and poignant. Her technique is excellent, with classic, perfectly executed attitudes and dazzling movements of the arms. Davit Galstyan as the Corsair himself does a solid job and is rather pleasant to watch.

The set designs by Sylvie Olivé and the lighting by Marion Hewlett are minimalistic, especially when compared with previous productions. This is also an enhancement, as their subtlety does not distract from the dancers’ movements, serving the choreography extremely well. It contrasts rather beautifully with the colourful, luminous, at times almost garish costumes designed by Olivier Bériot. That said, some of the head-dresses are rather exaggerated, as is the case for those of the Wealthy Slave Trader and the Sultan’s Favourite Concubine.

The quality of picture and sound of the DVD is exceptionally good but I can imagine that the depth and detail of the images in the Blu-Ray must be rather more striking. The filming of the production is very competent and skilfully directed for the screen by Luc Riolon.

In all, from a musical perspective, this production is effectively coherent, due mostly to the parts composed and added by the excellent David Coleman. Kader Belarbi’s direction is convincing and his choreography is accomplished all the way through. It’s inventive at times, as in the Sultan’s part and at others familiar but always fluid and smart. If you love narrative ballet as a consistent, harmonious work of an ensemble then, this production is rather enjoyable. On the other hand, if you are attracted to individual virtuosic, exuberant performances by great dancers then, you would be better off buying the American Ballet Theatre DVD, which I mention above, or another production with dancing of a similar exceptional quality.

Margarida Mota-Bull
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at www.flowingprose.com